|A$AP Ferg at the Capitol Hill Block Party|
Because Seattle is an extremely socially conscious city, where a large group of university and post-university hip, young adults congregate, between sips of micro-brews there will be talk of feminism, the suppression of the LGBT community, white privilege, and anything Buzzfeed circulates. For it seems political activism can be summed up in what we do and do not say, as if words could symbolically undo the social injustices of the past. I have grown up in this culture flowering in politically correct rhetoric and I have learned to navigate the minefield of words with an edge my peers from the South or Midwest do not have. Mastering the art of not sounding sexist or racist is easy compared to the eggshell walk of verbal pratfalls of lookism, ableism, ageism, and ethnocentrism—whether in earnest of jest. At this peculiar historical juncture, words are at the center of political struggle—freedom of speech in contention with the politically correct.
Holding up individualism and group solidarity in conjunction is vital; the real danger comes when the paradox collapses on itself to one extreme—or otherwise said, the party really starts when A$AP Ferg picks one extreme.
For context, Darold Ferguson Jr., or better known by his stage name A$AP Ferg, is a hip hop artist from Harlem, New York. He is a member of the hip hop collective A$AP Mob, from which his moniker is derived, and is associated with A$AP Yams and A$AP Rocky, who also performed at Capitol Hill Block Party. He has released two successful recorded albums, Trap Lord and L.O.R.D., with Trap Lord peaking second on the U.S. Rap charts and ninth on the U.S. charts.
Well acquainted with the music of A$AP Ferg and A$AP Rocky, recent staples of the party scene, I was in a state of euphoria standing in the press pit and became more so on seeing Ben Haggerty (Macklemore), watching from behind stage. A$AP Ferg was met with mass hysteria, from a surging, teeming crowd that physically suspended me in the air and smashed into the stage, as he roared aggressively through the microphone at the audience as the beat began, “today we are going hard and anyone who won’t should leave,” and without pause, “ladies feel free to show me your titties and boys feel free to mosh.” Then the bass dropped and the crowd in response convulsed and thrashed like an animal caught in a netted trap.
Sandwiched between an ingenious lyrical mix of drugs, money and alcohol, was a constant assault and degradation of women, accumulating into the catchy hook, “I fucked your bitch, nigga, I fucked your bitch, she sucked my dick, nigga, she sucked my dick.” Certainly, I am not naïve to the nature of rap music and culture, but I have never been so acutely aware of the bizarre dichotomy of feminists and "progressive hipsters" twerking and echoing a chorus of aggressive hate speech. One could make the argument that the women spoken of in the music had no association to me or that they were simply “just lyrics” and were associated with no one. As Paul De Man wrote, “One would think that, after some of the experiments of this century, the complexity of the relationship between thought and action would be better understood.” I felt a connection; from the time the music began and ended there was a physical assault to my female companion and myself. The men around me, previously more or less respectful of my person, almost in response to the words spoken, attempted to take liberties that were not consented too.
When it ended, the sweaty crowd restored some semblance of dignity, and I looked all around me too see if anyone else had the same stunned look of rude awakening, if anyone else thought the performance promoted sexism and the degradation of women - I wasn’t that surprised to find no one was. But in that moment I realized, I couldn’t say anything about the overt sexism, because - excuse me as I pull away all rhetorical stops - as a white woman, I could make no comment without being perceived as both racist and a prude. A$AP Ferg’s freedom of speech and expression, no matter how hateful, trumped mine - the island of oppression in a sea of freedom. I knew what my more progressive friends would say, “now you know what it feels like to be oppressed, rap music is the voice of years of oppression.” But herein lies the mind-numbing contradiction, women have also been oppressed, the justification of my tolerance to his intolerance is based on - what? - who has been more oppressed? Or perhaps, who has been oppressed the longest? Who is ready to make the case to justify the physical and verbal assault on my person based on that premise? The ambiguity of the term “politically correct,” which according to lexicographer William Safire, originated with Chairman Mao’s 1963 polemic “Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?” found a strange reversal of meaning with it’s first American use in a 1975 statement by the National Organization of Woman and has since been canonized in the jingle of postmodernity. Between the Scylla of freedom of speech and the Charybdis of the politically correct, is there no middle way?
So entrenched in social elitism and political etiquette as elaborate as a Japanese tea ceremony, I could find no words beside the plethora of “ism’s” to describe my experience. More eloquently, Homi K. Bhabha wrote, “so where do we turn, we who see the limits of liberalism and fear the absolutist demands of fundamentalism?” Perhaps it wasn’t about a black man’s words promoting the degradation of women, or a white, privileged woman flinching at the first taste of oppression. Unbound by race and sex, I, as a human being experienced injustice by the words of another human being. In a search for the understanding of what valor, temperance, and justice are, it turns out the PC jargon I grew accustomed to was but a butterfly net I was given to catch an elephant - but since elephants are an endangered species, seems I wasn’t intended to catch them anyway.
Words + Photo by Tamala Aown
About the Author
Brooks Ginnan is the editor of Exiled Music Press. He is usually crying over the fact that we will never see a reunion of The Smiths or Cocteau Twins.